Alumni Take to Tech


We live in a world of wonder, perpetually connected—to other people, to endless data streams, to the collected knowledge of centuries. At work, on the go, in our homes, in our hands—a hum underlying everything: technology.

THE WORD CONTAINS MULTITUDES: WHILE TECH IS TREATED AS A CATCH-PHRASE, A PRODUCT, OR AN INDUSTRY, IT IS MORE THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS. Tech is a paradigm, a milieu—it is the environment in which professionals of all occupations live and act. Tech is more mindset than skill set, and success in Tech is predicated on much more than coding skills.

Viewed this way, it’s little surprise that a small liberal arts school like Principia College is producing a disproportionate number of technology leaders, innovators, visionaries, and more.

This time last year, several of those Principia alumni were featured as 125th anniversary “Innovators:” Audrey (Whitfield) Mackenzie (C’82), an AI founder and current Chief Information Officer at The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, MA; Jonathan Gibbs (US’90, C’94), an Academy Award-winning animator with DreamWorks and Apple; and Dr. Yumio Saneyoshi (US’89), product owner at Google and Yahoo! and founder of the Penguin Coding School; as well as Kevin Pratt (US’00, C’04), Principal Avionics Engineer at Blue Origin, who was featured in a recent issue.

Here, we further explore the many ways Principia alumni are building careers and busting stereotypes in this wide world we call Tech.

From Print

Steve Nye

Sr. Director, Customer Success, EMEA • Instructure

“All I knew was, I was good at solving problems,” Steve Nye says with a wry chuckle.

When Nye joined the Tech world, it looked different than it does now. “I applied through the newspaper,” he recalls, for a customer support role with a small industrial technology company.

While rethinking large organizations, Longshore noticed an important informal organization—the family unit—was largely overlooked. “There wasn’t a collective conversation happening about parenting, so I started a small group.”

While Nye hoped to transition into software development, it was the problem-solving that got him noticed. Soon, he was overseeing all customer-facing functions and managing 250 professionals distributed across the globe as the VP of Customer Support.

After two decades of career-defining growth, Nye recalls, “I was ready for a break—to go somewhere and have an adventure.” So Nye and his husband, Ryan, an executive at Apple, traded Bay Area fog for the London variety.

That break proved short-lived. In late 2019, he signed on to lead customer success for an ed-tech company called Instructure. Within months, schools across the globe switched to remote learning in response to the COVID pandemic. Instructure’s main product, the classroom facilitation tool Canvas, became a go-to for schools at every level. “We went from one million concurrent users to over six million in a week,” Nye marvels. “We were one of the top five sites on the internet!”

If the bumpy ride of the early internet was an adventure, this was another thing entirely. Training thousands of customers across the globe how to get the most out of Canvas in the shortest period of time may sound like a headache, but Nye is grateful for the experience. “The amount of goodwill we received from our customers—as many of our competitors were falling apart—was incredible,” he says. And millions of students can be grateful that Steve Nye is good at solving problems.


"I was ready . . . [to] have an adventure."

From Print

Dennis Adjei-Baah 

(US’09, C’13)
Sr. Software Engineer • MasterCard

Dennis Adjei-Baah’s career as a software engineer almost didn’t happen. “I originally studied physics,” he recalls. “But once I saw how much math was involved, I switched to computer science!”

From there, the Ghanaian programmer never looked back: “Principia had an intensive program, which gave me the foundation to be comfortable in my career.” Before graduation, Adjei-Baah landed a job as a front-end engineer, developing applications for Worldwide Technology. After earning a masters in computer science, he underwent the software engineer’s rite of passage: Silicon Valley startup life.

“We were moving fast, working on something very technical, requiring deep knowledge in Internet protocols,” Adjei-Baah explains. “I was learning a lot, trying new things, failing, and trying other things. It was high pressure.”

But Adjei-Baah was thinking of another fast-paced startup role: parenting. So after four years in the crucible, he and his wife returned to the Midwest to start their family. Today, Adjei-Baah creates cyber intelligence applications for MasterCard—compiling and acting on complex transaction data. “The work is challenging, but I also have the breathing room to make mistakes or step away if my family needs it,” he says. Not sure anyone could engineer it better.

"Principia had an intensive program, which gave me the foundation to be comfortable in my career."

From Print

Jami (Wissman) Heckel

(C'17)Software Engineer III • Motiva AI

For Jami (Wissman) Heckel, the challenge is the thing. As a software engineer at the small but mighty software company Motiva AI, Heckel is on the cutting edge of messaging and engagement, and has been called into service for everything from database architecture to generative AI. After landing the job fresh out of Principia, she quickly grew from a front-end developer to full-stack engineer. “Now I do a little bit of everything,” explains the computer science major and business-dance double-minor.

The small team at Motiva has been a perfect fit for Heckel’s curiosity and broad skill set. “I hear from our CEO on the business strategy, and from our customer success team about what customers want­—I get exposed to all of that,” she says. “That’s been one of my favorite parts of the job.” Heckel continues, “I don’t just get lost in the weeds of code, I like to know that I’m bringing value to our customers.”

"don’t just get lost in the weeds of code, I like to know that I’m bringing value to our customers."

From Print

Jackson Walker

Signal Intelligence Officer • United States Navy

If you thought teaching your boss to convert a PDF was difficult, try explaining emerging cybersecurity technologies to an admiral at the Department of Defense.

Jackson Walker’s title is Signal Intelligence, but success in his post relies greatly on the human kind. While the nouns sound coldly technical—National Security Agency (NSA) Cybersecurity Team Lead, Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Technical Manager, Signal Intelligence on a Navy Destroyer—the verbs illustrate the relevance of Walker’s liberal arts education: communicating, collaborating, translating, managing.

Tasked with writing high-level technical documentation to be digested and acted-on by the very top level of the Department of Defense (DOD), Walker relied on his Principia foundation. “Coming into the DOD and NSA, I was the bridge between the technology and the decision-makers,” he explains. “Being able to write for different audiences, and explain concepts clearly… a lot of people saw what I put out, so hopefully it helps someone.”

Currently stationed as a Signal Intelligence Officer on a warship in the Middle East, Walker is consuming, analyzing, translating, and communicating data feeds in real time, with lives hanging in the balance. “It’s been challenging,” says the 2017 graduate. “But I’m glad I have those critical thinking skills. A lot of that liberal arts thinking has benefited me and our relevant decision-makers.”

"I’m glad I have those critical thinking skills . . . that liberal arts thinking has benefited me and our decision-makers . . ."

From Print

Brett Banning

Lead Product Designer • CareSource

As an undergrad at Principia College, Brett Banning’s studies in studio art and geology may have seemed like odd bedfellows; but viewed in retrospect, they make perfect sense. “I’ve always had a passion for science—applying the scientific method to unpack problems,” Banning explains. “It’s not too dissimilar from what we call today ‘design thinking,’ or ‘human-centered design.’”

Beginning his career in marketing as a graphic designer, Banning quickly expanded beyond graphics, into the complex space of user experience design. His desire for continuous growth and learning is a consistent driving force in his career. “I was looking for something substantial,” recalls Banning. That pursuit pushed him to leave the world of e-commerce for geospatial mapping applications at Monsanto.

That led to the life-changing email he almost didn’t answer. “Uber reached out to recruit me, and I thought it was fake,” Banning laughs. But the offer was real and the stakes were high. “At Uber, I designed the core offer experience on the driver application,” Banning recalls. “We had to provide all this information about the ride offer to drivers, who had approximately 20 seconds to act on it … while driving!” He continues, “It was a really complex problem to solve, and today the framework I created is used by every driver all over the world.”

Having worked as a product designer at Atlassian and now at Care Source, Banning explains, “I specialize in zero to one: we start with an ambiguous problem, provide definition, clarity, and design a fully functioning product.” This requires him to be involved in every step of the development. “I think in hindsight,” Banning reflects, “one of the things I value about Principia is the fact that I was pushed to learn a lot of different things. What’s essential now is the fact that I am used to always learning.”

"At Principia I was pushed to learn a lot of different things . . . I am used to always learning."

Digital Exclusive

Courtney Moser

Sr. Manager, Tax Technology Strategy and Implementation • Deloitte

Courtney Moser is no stranger to reinvention. “At Principia College, Elaine Follis would say, ‘It’s never too late to go back and start over.’ That was a great piece of advice.” Indeed, Moser took a couple of sharp turns at Principia, which produced profound impacts on her life.

The first redefined her relationship with computer science: “I got my first C ever in a computer science class, and it kind of scared me off.” After coding, an accounting class felt right. “Accounting scratched that itch, of making things fit and solving problems,” Moser recounts. “I just loved debits and credits and how everything fit together.”

Moser demonstrated her tendency to dive in head-first when she joined the College swim team, with no competitive swimming experience whatsoever. “I think that probably had a bigger impact on me than anything else in my whole life,” she says. “Having to start from an absolute beginner­—I had never swum competitively—and challenge myself in that way.”

After graduation, she took her Principia business degree directly to the University of Texas, where she earned her masters in accounting. Before she knew it, she was a practicing CPA with Deloitte.

The decisions to pause her career to start a family, and then launch her own business, were two more inflection points of fearlessly starting over. By the time she felt the pull of Deloitte again, she had rekindled her love of technology.

Now, Moser helps the massive accounting firm identify, test, and adopt new technologies that will help their professionals succeed. User testing, usability design, generative AI, and building new technologies all fall under her purview. “I want my work  to impact people in a positive way,” says Moser, “to help them like their jobs better, and not feel trapped.” Now that’s a sentiment Dr. Follis would approve of.  

"'It’s never too late to go back and start over.'"

Digital Exclusive

Steve Hammond

(US’12, C’16)
Delivery Solutions Architect • Databricks

Picture five contributors with distinct roles and skill sets, cooperating and collaborating, to reach a common goal. As a multitalented swingman on the Principia basketball team and a versatile data architect now at Databricks, Steve Hammond has always enjoyed esprit de coeur

“Something I credit Principia for is that team focus—that’s what it’s like in the real world,” Hammond says. “You’re not working in a silo, you’re working as a team. I‘m able to come in, evaluate the team dynamic, and figure out how to help.”

Hammond’s career path is marked by versatility. Recruited by Edward Jones out of college, he helped modernize an outdated technological infrastructure. With his  experience in the financial sector, he soon moved to Discover Financial Services to provide full stack Java development for the Diners Club team. “That was a great experience,” he says, “helping manage and update all of their tools.”

When a move to a new city prompted a change in employment, technology transformation firm Slalom saw Hammond’s promise as a data engineer. In turn, Hammond liked the fast-paced team environment of consulting work. “That was awesome; I worked on seven or eight different projects, and none was the same,” Hammond recounts. “It was the best possible way for me to learn a lot, quickly.”


"Something I credit Principia for is that team focus—that’s what it’s like in the real world . . ."